At the beginning of the season, Fulton suffered an ugly loss at Riverdale. Longtime Steamers coach Stacy Germann verbally let her team have it afterward.
"That was probably our worst game of the season," said Germann, who just completed her 19th season at Fulton. "We were not even a team that I had seen before. I laid into them pretty hard."
The next time Fulton saw Riverdale, the Steamers rolled to victory.
"It was just what they needed," Germann said.
The win over Riverdale came shortly before the Mendota tournament, when Germann finally saw her squad becoming the team she expected all along: the team that went on to go further than any other in the Sauk Valley, reaching the 2A supersectional before being derailed.
The Mendota tournament came with about 3 weeks left in the regular season.
"It was like a light went on," Germann said. "We played consistently for the longest amount of time that we could. That's all it took for them to see. They were hooked then.
"I could see it in their eyes. I could see it in their energy. They realized what they could do."
Fulton's Elite Eight finish was far from expected after a bumpy regular season that saw the Steamers finish 11-17-3. They went 7-7 and tied for fourth in the Three Rivers North.
The Steamers entered the five-team Riverdale Regional as the No. 3 seed. With four postseason wins, they went from there to one of the final eight teams in the state, despite finishing 15-18-3.
"We all had higher hopes than we were producing at the beginning," Germann said. "We just had to put the puzzle together. With the addition of a couple underclassmen, it made our puzzle whole.
"We knew we had the talent. We just had to get them to gel together, and it was a lot later than we all wanted it to be. But, it was when it counted."
Sophomore Camerin Huizenga was added to the roster about seven matches into the season. She seemed to be the missing ingredient, but it was not an overnight fix.
"I knew it would take time," Germann said. "You move somebody up new to the scene. You have to change all your rotations. After that, I didn't have any doubts. I just was doubting when it was going to happen."
Germann's first love was basketball while growing up on a farm in Clifton. Volleyball began to "click" her last few years of high school.
She went on to play basketball (2 years) and volleyball (4 years) at Eureka College, where she met her husband Derek, who is also a coach and teacher in Fulton.
She got her first taste of coaching her senior year at Eureka, when she coached eighth-grade volleyball at St. Patrick's School in Washington.
After that, she spent a very busy school year at Leland Middle School, where she coached sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade basketball, volleyball and track. In basketball and volleyball, that meant coaching three different teams.
"I'd have one practice at 6 in the morning, then two practices after school," Germann said.
A first-grade teacher at River Bend Elementary School in Fulton, Germann's career has turned out just about as planned.
"I always knew I wanted to teach," she said. "My oldest sister [Glenda] went into teaching. I followed her footsteps."
Germann has always tried to throw herself into teaching and coaching. That feeling has been amplified since becoming a parent. Germann has three young daughters.
"We were always invested, but since we've had kids, it's even more," she said. "Now, this is our home."
Germann has been teaching and coaching long enough that she's seeing multiple generations.
"I don't feel that old," she said. "I still feel like I have that energy. But, I'm teaching the children of kids I've coached. It makes you take a step back and realize how old you are."
Like many coaches who are also parents, Germann has had to weigh if coaching is the best thing for her family.
"There were times when my daughters were younger that I thought maybe I needed to get out of coaching," she said. "But, the older that my kids have gotten, and I see my older two coming to camps, it's important to me to stay in it for them."
Germann, who said she could be retired from teaching when her youngest, who is soon to be 3, is still in high school, plans to coach her daughters as varsity Steamers.
"I think that's going to be a good bonding time for us," Germann said. "That somewhat keeps me going."
Coaching resume: St. Patrick's School (Washington), eighth-grade volleyball, 1994; Leland Middle School, grades 6-8 basketball, track and volleyball, 1994-1995; River Bend Middle School (Fulton) eighth-grade basketball, 1995-2001; Fulton High School, varsity volleyball, 1995-present
High school attended: Clifton Central (1990 graduate)
College: Eureka College (1994 graduate)
Family: Husband, Derek; Daughters, Teegan (9), Resse (6), Kerby (3 in January)